Romans 12:1–2 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship
A couple of years ago I felt the Lord leading me to be more available to our worship team. Previously, I had been serving on Sunday mornings sporadically due to family issues. When the urgent family needs decreased, I was slow to increase my commitments to serving on Sunday mornings. Balancing work, family, and ministry had taken more out of me than I realized. The lessening demands at home felt relieving and I was reluctant to sacrifice the time I felt I was duly mine.
Feeling convicted of my selfishness I plunged headlong into serving. “This is my ‘reasonable service,’” I thought to myself. Our worship team was in need of a percussionist to fill in where our only drummer needed a much deserved break. Even if I served every Sunday, that is what I would do. Little thought went into weighing the sacrifice and how it would affect my time as well as my body.
Long rehearsals, personal practice, and playing consecutive services was hard on my hands, my back, and my ears. Still, I thought I could handle it. Ice, anti-inflammatories, and ointments became a regular regimen. After a while, they stopped working. Monday’s swollen hands soon became Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s. Practicing through the pain, I’d push through to Sunday and start the cycle all over again. Rather than slowing down, I just kept going. I convinced myself this was the price that must be paid. Piously, I continued on. My symptoms worsened. I could no longer hold a fork to eat. Stabbing pain gripped my whole body as my hands would cramp. Turning my car key, opening jars, even tightening the hardware to my percussion kit became painful tasks. Finally, my husband could no longer bear watching me abuse myself.
“It’s time to go to the doctor,” he said. “Or you need to cut back on serving.”
“He is totally wrong!” I thought to myself. There was no way I was going to stop playing. Cutting back was not an option. So, off to the doctor I went to prove he was wrong.
He was right.
“You have a serious case of carpel tunnel in both of your hands,” the doctor said. “If we can’t decrease the inflammation, we will have to try cortisone injections, nerve conduction studies, and possibly surgery.” This would mean I would be unable to play my instruments, but more importantly, I would be unable to work. To our two-income family, this would be devastating.
The immediate plan consisted of stronger anti-inflammatories, splints at night, and physical therapy. Here I would learn my constant banging on my wooden drum had caused so much damage, my rehabilitation would not only take several weeks, but would also impact other areas of my life drastically. Re-learning to “pinch” clothes pins, open jars, type at my computer, rest my hands on the steering wheel of my car and shift gears, frustrated me. But, determined to expedite my healing, I did everything the therapist asked. When she optimistically said I should try to play my drums a little, I enthusiastically jumped on the opportunity. With the help of kinetic tape on both of my hands, she said I could practice focusing on proper hand position while playing “lightly.” Without prayer or any caution whatsoever, I jumped in to playing with everything I had. The excruciating pain that followed set me back; I could hardly hold a glass of water the next day.
My follow-up visit with the doctor didn’t go so well. My right hand was healing nicely; no nerve symptoms. But not my left. This is the hand I use throughout my playing, driving a hard bass beat on my wooden cajon.
“You may have extensive scaring. I won’t know without nerve conduction studies. Have you been resting your hands?”
Silence. It said everything he needed to hear.
“If you want to avoid surgery, you will need to rest from any activity requiring you to hyper-flex your hands,” (push ups, burpies, my guitar and ukulele) “blunt trauma,” (hand drums) “and prolonged vibration” (drum kit, tambourine, mountain and bike riding). “Let’s see how well you heal after 8-weeks of rest. I’ll see you in a couple of months. We’ll go from there.”
I was almost positive I heard the sound of a gavel strike. The punctuation stabbing my heart. How could this be? What happened? How could I have been so blind? How could I have been so foolish? How could I have let myself get here?
In a pool of tears I wallowed for a bit, whimpering my “woe is me” song as I drove home from the doctor’s office. Had God taken another thing from me? Life marched me through several seasons of loss already; now THIS. Thankfully, my husband spared me the I-told-you-so’s. As a matter of fact, he said very little at all. It was unnerving. It was convicting.
The next morning I drove to work. I stared at the pressure lines still carved into my hands from the wrist braces I must now wear every night. The deafening silence from my husband and the searing conviction of the Holy Spirit left me raw and vulnerable. And if that were not enough, a late-night email from my worship leader, filled with words of encouragement, made me feel all the more singed. Each fitting word echoed through my thoughts, drowning out the traffic report on the radio. Worn and weary from my pity party the day before, I thought to myself; “This is the best place to start.”
Asking God to “search my heart” (Ps 139:22) was hard but only because I knew the depths of my depraved heart and I was ashamed. I understand why James encouraged us to look in the mirror with the intent to change what we see, not turn away (James 1:23-25). Sanctification can be painful, but O so worth it. God revealed two important things to me. First; I did not wholly understand the scripture I had used as the foundation of my service. The second was more of a question; was my intent to serve based on my desire to glorify Him, or glorify self?
Romans 12:1–2 (ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
When I first set out to serve, I held on to this scripture as the basis for my “lavish worship.” My body was his and the sacrifice I was giving was my “spiritual” or “reasonable” service or worship. But my application of the scripture was far from the meaning. The “living” sacrifice Paul speaks of is the spiritual life born in Christ, made holy by His blood and made acceptable by HIS sacrifice. Such a life seeks to glorify God (1 Cor 6:20); not self. But my sacrifice was far from holy. It more accurately resembled decay and reeked the stench of the self-absorbed life.
All this time I focused so much on the first verse in Romans 12, I neglected the second:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Now I see where I lacked. I forgot to be careful of this world and its influences on my thoughts, my mind, my intentions and my actions. I failed to see how the “testing” required to discern His will and what is good and acceptable and perfect!
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
The worship leader’s email I referred to earlier was a divine message meant to snap my thoughts into proper alignment. He shared how blessed he was by each one of us on the worship team. He marveled on how the Lord was using so many of us in areas of great need. I thought about two areas where my heart was thoroughly convicted. The first area is that he was blessed by our service; my service included. While my heart has not always been right, God chose to use me anyway and this young man was blessed. O how undeserving I am! The second area is that while I have been unable to play with the teams, God had used this as an opportunity to raise up others to fill in. It also was an opportunity for the leaders to be open to embrace the talents and abilities of others, not just me. All this time, I may have been sinfully standing in the way of God raising up and using others to serve. O I am undone!
While my heart may not have always been egregiously off the mark, it still required more reverence for the holy ground of worship I serve on. Without my realizing, God continued to press ever so gently upon my heart that which was missing. When the gentle nudge failed to get my attention, he nudged a bit harder, and a bit harder still. Sometimes, it takes a frying pan blow to get my attention. Even then, His blow is merciful and just. He is faithful, even when I am not.